Every year, NFL free agency gets off to a hot start. The first week of the signing period is often when the largest, most groundbreaking deals are handed out, and this year was no different. We saw Trent Williams and Leonard Williams get big money to re-sign with the 49ers and Giants, respectively, and Bud Dupree and Joe Thuney get sizable deals to join the Titans and Chiefs.
But while the first week of free agency most often brings with it the splashiest of signings, it's usually the second and third weeks where NFL teams find the best bargains. That's why we're here today. In the space below, we're going to take a look at some of the best second-wave bargain signings, where teams found needed upgrades without needing to break the bank.
With Robert Saleh taking over, the Jets needed two things to properly play his style of defense: a versatile edge rusher who can hold up against both the run and the pass, and an interior penetrator who can do the same. They got the former in Carl Lawson last week, and the latter in Rankins this week. Rankins has had some injury issues and is coming off one of his less effective seasons, but he has shown a peak level of production that is rare for a player his age (26) that signs on a bargain-bin contract.
Alex Mack and Samson Ebukam, 49ers
Alex Mack played for Kyle Shanahan in both Cleveland and Atlanta, and now joins him in San Francisco. There are few centers better at executing exactly what needs to be done within Shanahan's offense, and now Mack will be back at the pivot for a unit that needs its offensive line to operate at a high level in order to him at peak efficiency. Ebukam, meanwhile, is just an underrated player. He can both pressure the passer off the edge and drop into coverage, and should benefit from playing on a defensive line that is chock full of talent.
This is just absolutely classic Patriots. New England traded for Van Noy at the nadir of his value back in 2017 and turned him into a terrific, versatile player. He worked as an inside linebacker, an edge rusher, and interior lineman, and everything in between. He signed a huge contract with the Dolphins last offseason, netting the Pats a compensatory pick in next month's draft. He was then released by the Dolphins earlier this offseason, and now he's right back in New England. The Pats literally just did this exact thing with Jamie Collins. Now they've done it again. Incredible.
Will Fuller, Dolphins
Fuller will miss Week 1 of the 2021 season as he fulfills the remainder of his six-game suspension for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy, but the Dolphins bringing him in on a one-year, $14 million deal is one of my favorite moves of the offseason. He's a perfect field-stretching complement to DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki, and puts Tua Tagovailoa in a far better position to succeed than he was last season. Deshaun Watson was always at his best when he had Fuller across from DeAndre Hopkins, and the Dolphins can hope the same is true for Tua (or whichever quarterback they take at No. 3). If he balls out, they can either sign him to a long-term deal or get a compensatory pick when he signs an even larger deal elsewhere next offseason, when the cap spikes back to a normal level.
Reddick racked up 12.5 sacks in his first season as a pure edge rusher. Now, he gets to get after the quarterback while working across from Brian Burns, and next to Derrick Brown. On a one-year, $8 million deal, he's terrific value for the Panthers, who didn't even have to commit to him on a long-term contract to take a shot on the upside he flashed last season. Considering his relationship with Matt Rhule goes back to their days at Temple, Carolina should have a good shot to re-sign him if things work out.
The Bengals' moves in the secondary (Chidobe Awuzie and Mike Hilton) got more attention, but I think this was my favorite signing for them. Ogunjobi got overshadowed by Myles Garrett, Olivier Vernon, and Sheldon Richardson in Cleveland, but he's a quality player. He's coming off a bit of a down season in 2020 but in 2018 and 2019, he had 11 sacks, 20 tackles for loss, and 28 quarterback hits from his spot on the interior. He's not a one-for-one replacement for Geno Atkins, of course, but on a one-year deal with a maximum value around $6.2 million, he's a bargain.
Keanu Neal and Brent Urban, Cowboys
The Cowboys have been plagued by poor up-the-middle defense for a couple years now. Both of these players should help with that. Neal has extensive experience with new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn from their days together in Atlanta, and his ability to play safety in base defense and linebacker in nickel packages should both bring an added element of versatility the team has lacked and free the Cowboys from having to trust Jaylon Smith in coverage. Urban is one of those guys who keeps bouncing around the league and just playing really well against the run for a couple years, and then moving on to his next stop. He should fit right into Dallas' defensive tackle rotation.
The Seahawks lost Shaquill Griffin to the Jaguars on a big-money deal, and replaced him with a corner who is a terrific scheme fit (Witherspoon played in a very similar system in San Francisco) and costs about a third of the price. Nobody has more confidence in his ability to coach up defensive backs than Pete Carroll, and I wouldn't be surprised if the drop-off from Griffin to Witherspoon wasn't even that large.
Hollister has done pretty well with the small number of opportunities he's been given during his time in the league. Over the last two seasons in Seattle, he caught 66 of 99 passes for 558 yards and six scores. He's shown some ability to flex out into the slot on occasion. He's basically the same size as Dawson Knox, giving the Bills two big-bodied athletes they can throw at teams when they want to utilize heavier personnel and still throw the ball, as is their wont.
Josh Reynolds, Titans
Is Reynolds as good as Corey Davis? Probably not. But he did pretty well as an injury fill-in during his first three years in Los Angeles, then had a nice season in a more expanded role last year, despite the offense's general struggles. As a complement to A.J. Brown, he works nicely, even if his ceiling isn't all that high. It helps that he knows the system, is a good blocker, and isn't afraid to go over the middle on play-action shot plays, all of which will make him a good fit in Tennessee.